Archive for the 'Drama' Category

17
Apr
16

Eraserhead (1977)

Wow. It’s been a good six months since I’ve graced these pages with my incoherent, babbling thoughts – apologies to those who care. Sometimes, life just gets in the way of this self-indulgence. In this case, I went and had a kid, and it has kicked my ass like nothing else in my life ever has. That shit they say about having kids is true: it changes everything.

Henry (Jack Nance) at one of the most uncomfortable, awkward family dinners I've ever seen on film.

Henry (Jack Nance) at one of the most uncomfortable, awkward family dinners I’ve ever seen on film.

Sure, I didn’t doubt that was the case, but I guess I didn’t grasp just how profoundly everything would change – including my perception of movies.

Like most people, I first saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead in college. Whatever copy they played us at one of the last gatherings of University of Pittsburgh’s Twin Peaks club (named Wounded in Pittsburgh, smirk) had Japanese subtitles. I remember having no fucking clue what it was I had just watched, and loving it for that reason. Over the years my memory of the movie faded, I mostly remembered it being an incredibly bizarre, outlandish and freaky nightmare starring a stunned Jack Nance. In the meantime I’d become intimately familiar with Lynch’s work, so that all seemed accurate to me.

Mary is having trouble feeding her little bundle of joy.

Mary is having trouble feeding her little bundle of joy.

For the uninitiated, Eraserhead is, in short, a story about an awkward couple in the early stages of a relationship. Though I find it difficult to imagine them having sex, they have, and they made a baby. But the baby was born extremely premature and is basically a fetus in bandages sleeping on a dresser. We watch in horror as the baby unravels whatever tenuous relationship the main characters (Henry & Mary) had. While that all sounds fairly straightforward, it isn’t. This is Lynch at his weirdest, so, suffice it to say there is a lot of freaky shit happening.

Of course in the 12 or so years since I’d first watched Eraserhead I often toyed with the idea of revisiting it, either through some Lynch marathon or inviting some square over just to scare the shit out of them with it, but it never happened. Not until I had a kid, and my husband couldn’t stop thinking: watching Eraserhead would be really freaky now. So on an evening where we had somehow had enough sleep to sit through a movie after getting the kid to bed herself, we did it.

And oh my god.

It was fucking hilarious.

I get it now. Eraserhead is a fucking comedy! Okay, until there’s that unmentionable violence. But, up until that point, oh my god! Hilarious! Yes, I have looked at my baby like she was an alien. Yes, I have convinced myself the baby was ill, only to find out she was fine, only to turn around and once again swear there is something wrong with her. Yes, I have shouted SHUT UP numerous times in the middle of the night due to my own lack of sleep! Yes, I have put the humidifier too close to her head. All these things that seem nightmarishly cruel are very true to the experience I had during the first few months of parenthood. Nail, head, et cetera.

That baby don't look right.

That baby don’t look right.

I don’t think I can give Eraserhead a star rating. Did I like it? Yes, I like it on two levels. The first is obvious: I like David Lynch, I like weird shit, and I like movies a lot, so of course it follows that I like Eraserhead. The second level is that I finally feel like I’m in on the joke, and it’s always more fun when you’re in on the joke. While it is true that a large portion of this movie remains an inexplicable nightmare, I feel like I finally understand the motivation behind it. All it took was becoming a parent! But how can I translate that into any kind of rating? Movies like Eraserhead don’t get rated. In David Lynch’s world, movies rate you. I mean, should you see Eraserhead? If you are over 25 and you haven’t already seen it, probably not. Unless, of course, you are a new parent. In which case, yes, you should. You should definitely see it. Like yesterday. If it doesn’t make you laugh, well, you probably have no sense of humor.

12
Oct
15

Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball (2007)

Just a little over three years ago, I packed a bag and housesat in the middle-of-nowhere Montana for six weeks. With not much else to do, Q and I decided we’d watch at least a movie a day. Montana was also the catalyst for me to start blogging again; I’d actually started this blog a few years before that but let it languish, wilt and die. Anyway, we brought a giant binder of DVDs with us, and many DVDs went unwatched (like I said, giant binder). It occurred to us that October would be a fine time to pluck Nic Roeg’s Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball from the binder and watch it.

Set in the Irish countryside, Puffball centers around Liffey, a young and successful architect who has taken on a project renovating an old, dilapidated cottage. She and her boyfriend Richard are eager to get started, when he unfortunately gets called away on business in New York. Luckily, they bone on an ancient rock (which is actually an altar to Odin, as explained by Donald Sutherland) before he heads out of town. Unluckily, the condom breaks. While Richard’s away, Liffey discovers she is pregnant, and she is not happy about it.

A slice of country heaven.

A slice of country heaven.

She has more than that to be unhappy about, though. Liffey’s closest neighbors are well-versed in ancient Druidic magic. Molly, the matriarch of the family, believes the baby Liffey is pregnant with was actually meant for her own daughter, Mabs (Miranda Richardson), who has been trying to get pregnant with a little boy for quite some time now, for reasons the film will cram down your throat. It’s not working out, and the local doctor refuses her fertility treatments saying she’s just too old to be a new mum. But Molly isn’t worried, she is fairly certain that her knowledge of magic, coupled with Mabs’ daughter Audrey’s natural powers can get the baby back to the right family. A little penis mushroom here, a little tainted alcohol there and voila! The baby will be in the right womb.

Nosy neighbors.

Nosy neighbors.

Well, unfortunately Molly and her witchy cohorts aren’t as in tune with Liffey’s pregnancy situation as they think. The lines get a little crossed, and their meddling causes some seriously bad mojo for everyone involved. Most of this is happening without Liffey even realizing it. But, in the end, Liffey decides to keep her baby, much to Mabs’ dismay, which leads to a very unsettling argument/labor situation that is DEFINITELY not something you want to watch if you are eight months pregnant!

Too old to breed.

Too old to breed.

I’m still not sure how I really feel about this movie. It definitely made me very uncomfortable, but how much of that has to do with my own pregnancy and imminent labor I can’t be sure. Certainly the idea that there are forces outside of us working to influence the outcome of a pregnancy is a terrifying one. What I for sure don’t like is the insatiable I-need-a-baby-now attitude that defines Miranda Richardson’s character. Sure, the film makes no bones about why Mabs feels this way, and I guess this was necessary to contrast Liffey’s I-definitely-don’t-want-a-baby-but-oops-accidentally-got-pregnant thing, but it really made me feel as though the filmmakers, or perhaps Fay Weldon, the author of the novel on which the film is based, think there are only two categories of women: those who wish to spawn, and those who don’t. That sort of dichotomy leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Life-changing sonogram.

Life-changing sonogram.

I have other problems with the film as well, but I’m afraid they’re mostly due to the budget Roeg had to work with. The film is very cheaply shot and reminds me of a throw-away television production. Sometimes I’m able to overlook stuff like this, but here I found the cheapness distracting. I also felt a lot of the special effects, which were also distractingly cheap, were used in very heavy-handed ways. I am sure there are other ways to convey a fire from back in the day to a film’s audience than showing the present-day object with flames overlaid on top. Over and over again. Oy. We get it.

Somewhere deep inside Puffball there is a good movie. Maybe even a great movie. But as it is now, I am not sure I liked it very much at all. It is thought-provoking, which is of course a positive thing, but there are so many smaller problems with the film that they take away from my ultimate read of the thing. Also, don’t be too excited to see Donald Sutherland’s name in the credits; he is only in two short scenes and that made me sad, too. For the most part though, the other actors do a good job of pulling their weight; they just don’t have much to pull.

29
Aug
15

Fat Girl (2001)

Anaïs getting her banana split on, while she watches her sister Elena get her make-out on. Awkward...

Anaïs getting her banana split on, while she watches her sister Elena get her make-out on. Awkward…

Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl is a difficult, unnerving, uncomfortable film. I’d never seen any of Breillat’s work previously, I’d only read that she was a “controversial” director. After watching Fat Girl it’s pretty obvious why the film community has slapped that label on her. This had been on the to-watch list for, oh, three years before we finally got around to it. It’s not exactly high up on the list for Saturday night entertainment, unless you’re in a particular mood to be challenged and made to feel totally gross.

The film is about two sisters. Elena is a freshly postpubescent beauty, ready to explore her sexuality, but only with someone she loves. Her younger sister Anaïs is anxious for a roll in the hay, too, but she thinks it’d be more ideal to lose her virginity to someone she didn’t really care about. Anaïs is also fat, certainly something Breillat is not about to let her audience forget: the film is peppered with scenes of Anaïs eating: a banana split while her sister makes out with an older boy at a local cafe, a huge plate of food at breakfast compared to everyone else’s more modest helpings, and my

There there sister, this piece of bread will make you feel better.

There there sister, this piece of bread will make you feel better.

favorite, a scene of Elena feeding her a piece of bread to make her feel better.

Their family is on a beach vacation. Ah, beach vacations during the coming-of-age times always result in such drama, don’t they? Elena “falls in love” with Fernando, the aforementioned older boy who sneaks into their cabin at night and convinces Elena to go much further sexually than she’s ready for – all while Anaïs is jealously watching. Elena’s affair strains her already contentious relationship with Anaïs; the two seem to routinely switch between hating each-other and desperately needing one-another. I think it’s fair to say they depend on one-another more than not, as it is clear through the family scenes Mom and Dad have better things to do than concern themselves with the lives of their daughters.

So much about this movie stings! I myself have never been a skinny beauty, so all those scenes of Anaïs eating her jealousy away really cut to the core. That’s not to say the film is made for any particular demographic; watching Elena in bed with Fernando is just as cutting and cringe-worthy. Even further, watching the two girls hurt each-other is hard to watch for anyone. Worst of all though, is the shocking ending that comes out of

Elena learning to navigate her feminine wiles.

Elena learning to navigate her feminine wiles.

nowhere. Yes, I’m going to bait you like that – of course I’m not going to tell you what happens. But, my god Catherine B, that is some cold-ass shit!

Even though it is painful, or perhaps because it is, I really liked this movie. What good is a movie if it doesn’t evoke some sort of strong emotion, right? I like how Breillat makes it a point to get into the heads of both of these girls, proving the world is no better a place for a young beauty than it is for a Fat Girl. We all have our struggles, and they’re all different, and that’s what makes it so damn hard to understand another person’s motivations, even if they’re family. Fat Girl is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for a challenge, it is more than worth a watch; it is a very good film indeed.

19
Jun
15

Capricorn One (1977)

When Q attempts to market a “serious” movie to me, I’m usually very disappointed. Especially when that movie purports to be space-themed; I’m used to my space science fiction being goofy and low-budget. No Gravity or Interstellar for this gal, please! So when he told me Capricorn One was, ahem, serious, I tried my best to get out of watching it. But, as you’d think I’d have learned by now, Q usually knows what he’s talking about, and Capricorn One, as serious as it is, is definitely well worth your time!

O. J. Simpson and Sam Waterston wanna know, what's the big idea?!

O. J. Simpson and Sam Waterston wanna know, what’s the big idea?!

Fifty seconds before lift-off to Mars, the astronauts of Capricorn One are instructed to leave the shuttle. Fifty seconds later, the shuttle takes off – without anyone inside. Astronauts Brubaker (James Brolin), Willis (Sam Waterston) and Walker (O.J. Simpson) demand to know what the hell is going on.  Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), a NASA bigwig, sits them down at a table and tells them they’ve been removed from the shuttle because at the last minute, it was discovered the company who built the life support systems majorly skimped; the fellas would’ve been dead in three weeks.

So, why not just cancel the mission for today, fix the problem, and resume at a later date? Well, when the president tells you not to botch another mission or else Congress is going to defund the Mars program entirely, the last thing you want to do is admit to another botched mission! Instead, wouldn’t you create an elaborate hoax to convince the President, and the millions of Americans who adore you, that you’re on Mars? After all, it’s really important to keep Americans interested in NASA and its various exploratory programs.

Mars on Earth.

Mars on Earth.

Never quite sure if they should, or can, keep up the charade for very long, the astronauts do it anyway. After all, their families’ lives have been threatened if they don’t follow through with the plan. The blissfully ignorant American public eats it up, except for one guy, the troublesome reporter Robert Caulfield (Elliot Gould). But he can’t get anyone to take his ideas seriously. How can he and three little astronauts take on the American government?

I was just so impressed with this movie. Not only is it serious, it’s also over two hours! This is usually a fatal blow to any movie’s potential, but never did Capricorn One start to feel long in the tooth. It had me on the edge of my seat up through until the very end. And, even though we never set foot in space, it’s a great adventure worth going on. Boy, that sounds cheesy; I guess I just can’t hide my enthusiasm for this movie. Maybe it’s just because I distrust everything and everyone and really dig movies about paranoia and vast conspiracies? Yeah, well, okay, it might be that.

Telly Savalas and Elliott Gould in the next installment of Adventures in Crop Dusting!

Telly Savalas and Elliott Gould in the next installment of Adventures in Crop Dusting!

But this movie has much more to offer than a plateful of paranoia; it is extremely well-paced, and everyone (well, almost everyone; I’m looking at you O.J.) turns in a great performance. Waterston is a right smart-ass, and as usual a complete joy to watch. And Gould, well, god dammit Elliott Gould is just as good in this as he is in The Long Goodbye. Look for David Huddleston (The Big Lebowski from The Big Lebowski) as a real peach of a Congressman, and a hilarious turn by Telly Savalas as a renegade crop duster!

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised this movie wasn’t more positively received, and even more surprised I’d never heard of it until Q pulled it off one of the shelves. It’s totally legit! It’s a lot of fun to watch; certainly not a bad way to spend an evening. The only thing that seems like its missing is Tom Skerritt. For some reason I just feel like he should’ve been in this movie… but shouldn’t he be in every movie?

29
Apr
15

Black Horizon (2002)

HughJanusThe Cull* is off to a very good start indeed. By good, I mean we’re watching movies that are so bad we’re getting rid of them! There is a sense of accomplishment to it, which is really good, because otherwise watching these movies would be a complete and utter waste of time. I do have to admit, though, to wondering why in hell we ever picked up such dreck in the first place? It’s as if used-media stores pump a drug through their air ducts that causes Q and I to be attracted to some of the dumbest looking movies around. And perhaps if we’d noticed Black Horizon was produced by a guy who claims the name HUGH JANUS, we would have put it down for someone else to throw money at. But we didn’t notice… until it was too late.

I admit to being confused by this movie at the get-go: it is very obviously a movie about a failing Russian space station, but starts off with some sort of drug bust. Jeffries (Ice-T) is some sort of Fed who’s gotten himself into trouble right before the bust is about to go down. His good buddy McKendrick saves his ass, and at the end of the disastrous bust they all have a good, hearty chuckle.

Sailor in space

Sailor in space

Once the opening credits roll, we get to the real meat of the film: McKendrick, an ex-Navy salvage diver is going to join Ed Carpenter, a pumped-up Macho man and his crew manning a shuttle to the AVNA space station. Seems systems are failing on the station, but important technology that could save the world needs to be salvaged. So of course you send a navy diver to do the job, right? Especially one that’s afraid of heights, right? Yeah, duh.

Things of course are much more complicated than anyone at NASA could have guessed. First, the space station has just been pelted with meteors – and more are on the way! Their communication system is down, so they’re unable to warn the hearty, brave Americans who are coming to save them that they’ll be in danger. Katherine, the leading scientist on the station, apparently skimped on some necessities while approving the blueprints for AVNA, and now she and her Russian crew are suffering the consequences.

If Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds had a brother that ate cheeseburgers and couldn't do a Russian accent, it'd be this guy.

If Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds had a brother that ate cheeseburgers and couldn’t do a Russian accent, it’d be this guy.

But perhaps worst of all, Katherine’s uncle Owen, a mega-capitalist of epic proportions, is hellbent on preventing the salvage mission’s success. Because the space station is such bullshit, if word got out about how shitty everything is his company’s stock would continue to plummet, resulting in the end of his glorious empire. Who cares that his niece is on board? They weren’t that close anyway! And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for Jeffries’ snooping around and general badassery!

Black Horizon is not a good movie. It’s not a good movie at all. The plot is very disjointed, skipping and jumping from one setting to another, and using stock footage to remind us whether we’re on earth or in space. The characters are so one-dimensional it hurts, from the badass, macho leader to the sexy, take-no-prisoners chick pilot, to the evil capitalist uncle and, of course, the drunken Russian. It’s almost like the writers took pieces from existing stories and glued them together very poorly, kind of how you’d expect a toddler to complete a jigsaw puzzle.

Ice-T wants to know why they gave him all the worst lines?

Ice-T wants to know why they gave him all the worst lines?

Aside from lackluster writing, the cast delivers us some very flat performances indeed. Look, I want to like Ice-T, I really do. I want him to be a great actor. But here, watching him is just excruciating. I don’t think it’s entirely his fault, he’s obviously not given much to work with, and his character is given all the worst one-liners in the film; a pretty insurmountable fate.

This is just another one of those movies that makes me shrug my shoulders and ask: why? Why bother making something this inept, this derivative, this nonchalant? After a movie like this is over, I always marvel at all the names that roll in the credits, reminding myself that it took all these people to make one giant piece of shit. Needless to say, this one won’t be going back on the shelf. Sorry, Ice-T.

*Q and I have decided it’s time for a great cull; an early spring cleaning. We have a large number of movies we have not yet seen. Are these movies any good? This is the question we are out to answer. If it’s no good, out it goes.

26
Apr
15

Payback (1995)

It’s been a little over two years since Q and I decided it was time to cull the old movie collection. When you have 2,000+ titles and limited space, this type of slaughter is necessary. Last cull was a bit rough, though, so we’re intermingling this one with a good movie or two – just to keep our sanity. Anyway, somewhere along the line, as I’ve probably already explained in some other blog post somewhere, Q got this thing for Anthony Hickox. To be fair, he’s responsible for a few really enjoyable flicks, like Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Full Eclipse, and Warlock: The Armageddon. What these movies have in common is that they’re all horror flicks. Unfortunately Payback, today’s selection for the cull, can’t in any way be considered horror.

paybackOscar (Soul Man‘s C. Thomas Howell) and Mac are the best prison friends. Mac’s a little older, and Oscar watches out for him, especially when the evil prison guard Gully gets on Mac’s case. See, Gully knows that Mac has hidden a fuckton of cash somewhere, and he’s hellbent on finding it – even if it means murder! One day, Gully takes it too far, buries Mac in a pile of trash, and ends up killing him. On Mac’s deathbed, he tells Oscar that boatload of cash is his, if he promises to murder Gully once he makes it out of prison. All he needs to do is swipe that little watercolor painting he keeps in his cell, and the secret riches will be his.

But – oh, no! – Gully’s not as dumb as he looks! He’s already taken the watercolor painting! Looks like Oscar’s going to have to find the cash without the clue, and only hope that Gully won’t get there first. Of course, turns out it’ll be difficult for Gully to use his stolen clue; he’s had an unfortunate accident and now he’s blind! Well that’ll make Oscar’s revenge that much easier to exact. There’s just one thing standing in his way now – Gully’s hot wife in a two-sizes-too-small waitress uniform, Rose. Oscar worms his way into their daily life, an easy thing to do since Gully can’t actually see who he is, and ends up working Gully’s restaurant for room and board.

It takes entirely too long for Oscar and Rose to finally bang, but they do, and money is found, and lost, and there are all these very predictable twists and turns, and since no one in this movie is a good person, they’re basically all gonna get their very own, personal ‘payback.’

I suspect the only reason this film somehow managed to score a 5.8 on IMDb is the dripping-hot sex scene where C. Thomas Howell’s ass gets up close and personal with the hood of a car under a barn. Didn’t you always want to see Soul Man getting busy? Oof. Why? Why? Also, I never realized how disgusting handlebar mustaches are until I saw Howell making out in this movie. Shiver. There are a lot of questionable things about this movie, but his casting in the lead ‘badass’ role tops the list for me. How’m I supposed to believe this little guy’s gonna take down Gully’s monster AND seduce his sorta-hot wife? His character also never really seems bought-in to anything, least of all revenge. Revenge should never be wishy-washy!

Of course, the plot and characters leave a lot to be desired as well. The real bad guys in this movie are as bad as the baddest baddies in an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger. We don’t know why they’re so angry, aggressive and greedy, they just are. They’ll judge a book by its cover and then punch it in the face before you can inhale. This kind of unchecked male aggression is so damn tiresome, and it seems to be everywhere. What’s the deal with that? Payback is just another of those movies about a bunch of shitty people doing shitty things that I don’t care about. When there’s no investment in character or plot development, what incentive is there to watch a film? The five minutes of C. Thomas Howell sex? I mean, I doubt it. There’s not even a lot of boobage in this. It’s got all the elements of one of those sexy crime dramas, but they’re all so half-assed, non-committal and obvious, I’m not sure why anyone even bothered to put this flick together.

So I’m happy to report that our videocassette copy of Payback will be relinquished to the discard pile, making room for something more deserving of my shelf space. Or, let’s be honest, making room for another piece of shit we’ll end up culling in another two years. What can I say, we have a sickness, and we’re not about to seek treatment any time soon.

08
Mar
15

Nightcrawler (2014)

nightcrawlerAfter spending the last 10 years in the DC area, it was time for the Q’s to pick up and move down South. Naturally we had your normal set of concerns: will it be easy to navigate? How southern will it be? Will we make any friends? Will there be enough to do?  Honestly, though, what I was most concerned about was finding a good place to watch movies! As much as I dislike DC, it does have a lot of independent theaters and opportunities to do fun movie things; midnight movie showings, psychotronic society, etc. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, we quickly discovered our new area has quite a few offerings of its own; Monday night b-movie trash, old flicks showing three out of four Wednesdays every month for $5 a pop, and an accidentally-discovered second-run theater with even better ticket prices: $2.25! When I saw the last was playing Nightcrawler I figured why not give it a shot: I didn’t know anything about it except that Jake Gyllenhaal was in it and that people had said good things. I figured it was worth a gamble of $2.25. I was right!

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is out of work and desperate for money. His current cash flow comes from skulking the streets of Los Angeles collecting scrap metal for cash, but he’s not beyond beating up a security guard for his watch if he has to. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not a very lucrative career. Bloom doesn’t want to be this way; in fact he tries very hard to find a legitimate position, but no prospective employers are biting – not even when Bloom mentions his online business courses! Despite a rousing speech lauding his qualifications, Bloom is turned down for yet another job. But on his way home, Bloom fortuitously finds himself at the scene of a car crash. While rescue crews work to free the driver from the wreckage, Bloom is far more interested in the cameramen gunning for a front-row spot. After the crash is cleared away and the commotion has left the scene, he probes the main cameraman, Joe Loder, (Bill Paxton) about his field of work. Loder explains the equipment and philosophy of his profession:  race to record disaster scenes and sell their graphic footage to local news outfits. Impressed by Loder’s truck-full of equipment, he assumes it must be a lucrative career, and thus his new path is chosen.

The very next day, Bloom sets out to get some equipment of his own. He trades in a stolen bike for a camcorder and a police scanner, and soon he even hires an “intern” named Rick, a homeless youth, to help him navigate the streets of LA as he races to the scenes of disaster in hopes of getting there before his competition. It doesn’t take him long to learn the ropes, and in a short while he finds himself offering some hot footage to local morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Impressed with his work, she asks for more, advising he make it bloody, gory, minority-on-white crime in nice neighborhoods. Impressed with his check, Bloom is more than happy to oblige.

For a while, Romina and Bloom’s professional relationship is extremely lucrative for both of them. Romina is able to get her ratings up, and Bloom can afford to upgrade more than just his shitty camera equipment. Unfortunately, it’s only a short while in until Romina realizes what kind of guy she is dealing with. While she initially admired Bloom’s unflinching ambition, she comes to realize exactly how dangerous a man he is. Bloom is the personification of unfettered capitalism; morality and compassion are secondary to the bottom line. As you can imagine, the film takes some very disturbing turns, and I’m not about to ruin those for you by going on and on about the plot; I’ve probably said too much as it is.

As I mentioned before, I went into the theater not knowing at all what Nightcrawler was about. As the film wore on, I became increasingly excited about where it was going. The story is engrossing in and of itself, but it wouldn’t have been half the film it is without Gyllenhaal leading the way. His creepy intensity drives the entire film; I don’t doubt for a second Bloom’s ghoulish reverence for the health of his burgeoning company. Gyllenhaal has managed to play a character only Ayn Rand could love; a truly despicable human being.

I must say though, I’m left wondering what made Bloom the way he is. The movie is peppered with lines about how difficult it is to get anywhere in an economy like this. As has been well-documented these days, we live in a time of great income inequality, and Bloom, having just recently taken all those online business courses, must of course know the only folks who are successful are really fucking successful. He’s done his best to get by honestly, though perhaps he hasn’t exactly taken the smartest route, he is a man who wants to work. Why should making ends meet be so difficult for him? In the cut-throat, social-darwinistic world of business, it’s kill or be killed, and Bloom isn’t about to be killed. So who can blame him for not just wanting to survive, but to thrive?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not find Bloom’s character sympathetic in the least. What I do find sympathetic is his situation, and I think the film does a fantastic job of pitting our economic climate against an average Joe. Being educated and driven is clearly not enough to get by in today’s America; you must also be bloodthirsty and relentless. The story is shown to us almost matter-of-factly, like yes – of course these are the lengths a successful businessperson will go to in order to achieve greatness. What is highlighted for me the most is the idea that perhaps the most dangerous thing about steep income inequality is not need, but the desperation it breeds in those who don’t want to be left behind.

Nightcrawler is a difficult movie to watch (I got the Fremdscham more than a few times), but it is also riveting (yeah, I used that word, so what?) and rewarding. Though I must wonder what a true libertarian would think of it. Q had said he could envision Bloom being held up as a true hero of Modern Capitalism… but I think even he is a little too despicable for such people to laud. But hey, what do I know? I just watch movies.

04
Jan
15

Frailty (2001)

frailtyposterFor a long time, I’d been hearing really good things about Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty. Naturally, I was skeptical: I’d only just recently admitted to myself that I like watching Paxton in action. Specifically, his turn in Near Dark delighted me to no end, and I finally had to come to terms with the fact that he is an enjoyable, if ridiculous, force on screen. After the endorsement of several folks, all of whom have opinions we normally respect, we decided to take a gamble. While I don’t necessarily regret it, I will say that a movie hasn’t inspired such passionate anger in me since that piece-of-shit Godzilla remake.

First things first: I can’t account for my disgust without revealing the film’s secrets. So, if you are stuck in the late 90’s/early aughts and still obsessed with plot twists, read no further. To the rest of you, it should already raise a red flag that the success of Frailty completely hinges upon its twist(ed) ending.

Now, let’s see if I can sum this shit up. Fenton Mieks (Matthew McConaughey) appears uninvited at his local FBI office. He’s looking for Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe), the detective searching for the “God’s Hand” serial killer. Fenton insists he knows, quite intimately, who the killer is. Doyle is skeptical, but with leads having run dry long ago, he has no choice but to hear him out. Long story short, when Fenton and his younger brother Adam were growing up, his widower dad (Bill Paxton) woke up in the middle of the night with a vision from God telling him it was his family’s job to kill sinners. The light of the lord bequeaths upon him a list of sinners by name and a few instruments with which to catch and kill them. Dad wastes no time getting the great cull started, and when he brings the first victim home, Fenton is horrified.  He is pretty sure his father has lost his shit completely. Young Adam is too little to know who’s right, and is more inclined to believe his father knows what he’s doing when he takes his hatchet to harlots and heretics.

We're a happy family, we're a happy family, we're a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

We’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

When Fenton decries his father’s actions and opts not to help murder people, dear old dad says the vision of God has told him that he should be next on the chopping block. But I guess he doesn’t quite have the strength of Abraham, and instead just has Fenton dig a giant hole in the ground that eventually will be his home for two or three weeks; just long enough until he sees the light of God, of course. Adam is allowed to give his brother one glass of water a day, but no food. I guess hunger can cause visions, right? So Fenton says he saw the light and is allowed out, and, you know, to eat and stuff, so that’s kind of nice. He still balks when his dad hands him the axe, though. Instead of whacking a sinner’s head off, he intentionally misses and sinks the blade into his father’s belly.

At this point Agent Doyle is  thinking ‘boy howdy, that’s quite a story, but them pieces don’t fit together.’ Fenton insists his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, carrying out the work started by daddy all those years ago. Doyle wants some sort of proof, and for whatever reason agrees to go to the plot of land where Fenton says all the bodies are buried. Finally, the two are alone and Fenton can reveal the truth: he’s not Fenton at all! He’s actually Adam! And his dad wasn’t crazy, he really did get a list of sinner’s names from the almighty lord and has carte blanche to murder

It's hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it's done to Paxton's forehead.

It’s hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it’s done to Paxton’s forehead.

them all! Even more twisty, Agent Doyle is just such a sinner and his end is imminent! OH MY (literal) GOOOOOODD!

Seriously? Seriously. How is this movie not an endorsement for religious zealotry? What. The. Fuck. At first I was thinking to myself: oh, okay, I get it; this movie’s going to say something interesting about religious fanaticism! BUT THE EXACT OPPOSITE HAPPENED! I am pretty sure I seethed and fumed about the irresponsibility of such an ending for entire days after I’d watched this. Aren’t we taking the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing a little too fucking literally here? The worst part of it is, after watching the special features on the disc it seems painfully clear that Paxton and writer Brent Hanley don’t seem bothered by this shit in the slightest. It’s almost as if the implications of their supposedly masterful twist ending didn’t concern either of them; they only wanted to make the audience gasp. And, I guess the second worst part is, it fucking worked. How is it possible that normal people are not bothered by the meaning behind this creepy-ass, evangelical ending?

McConaughey plots his next move...

McConaughey plots his next move…

While its politics absolutely disgust me, the truth is the film is not a bad piece of work, technically speaking. Paxton seems to know what he’s doing behind the camera, even if he can’t entirely pull off the devout dad role. He’s not the only one who seems to have trouble with his acting; McConaughey is no prince in this either. He’s not terrible, but after just watching (and loving) True Detective it’s pretty clear to see just how much he’s grown as an actor. And speaking of True Detective, I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities between the two. Not to throw gas into the plagiarism fire plaguing writer Nic Pizzolatto, but there is a bit here that makes me wonder. Aside from the obvious McConaughey link, both pieces of work take place, in large part, in an office of the law. Both pieces center around a man, played by McConaughey, retelling a story in which he may or may not be suspected of committing serious crimes. Both have a weird Southern Gothic spiritualism thing going on, but thankfully True Detective‘s ending, while perhaps ultimately disappointing, was benign.

Anyway, whatever. This movie sucks. It’s irresponsible, reprehensible, and lazy. And, despite what Paxton and Hanley would have you believe, murder is not okay.

27
Nov
14

Mad Cowgirl (2006)

It’s very rare that I sit down to write about a movie and have absolutely no idea where to start. Sometimes a good lead-in escapes me, but that’s usually nothing a few minutes of thumb-twiddling can’t sort out. But with Gregory Hatanaka’s Mad Cowgirl nothing comes easy, especially not the task of writing about it. The movie fell into my lap as so many others have; a random recommendation that I decided deserved a chance probably on its title alone. What I encountered was an experience far more strange than I was ever prepared for.

The Mad Cowgirl contemplates beef.

The Mad Cowgirl contemplates beef.

The film is very fragmented, frenetic and above all weird. The action centers around Therese (Sarah Lassez), a beautiful young meat inspector who can’t seem to get enough beef in her life. Despite the ever-present news reports of tainted beef imported from Canada she devours the stuff morning, noon and night; it’s the one constant in her life. She suffers from a never-ending string of failed and/or strained relationships, especially with the men in her life, all of whom treat her with pretty blatant disregard, desperation or contempt. We don’t know what happened really between her and her ex-husband, but he doesn’t seem quite willing to let her go. She is currently sexually involved with a local televangelist played by Walter Koenig of Star Trek fame, but not far into the film he rebuffs her gruffly over the telephone. Her brother, with whom she has an incestuous relationship, runs a meat-packing plant and has been selling tainted beef – some of which he gifted her way. Is the tainted beef the cause behind a brain disorder that she may or may not be dying from?

Walter Koenig as the eternally sexy televangelist

Walter Koenig as the eternally sexy televangelist

Written down, it all seems like it is kind of straight-forward, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We get mere clips of Therese’s life as it happens; there is no narrative thread holding any of it together other than Therese herself. Some of what we see are tortured memories, others are acts of desperation: making love to the television set while her ex-lover preacher flame expounds on God’s glory; gnawing on a nearly-raw steak prepared for her by a new friend acquired in the Catholic church, and finally in the last act assuming the role of The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick, a kung-fu favorite of hers in which the titular Girl must slay the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung.

Who could blame a girl?

Who could blame a girl?

To be honest, Mad Cowgirl is kind of a difficult film to appreciate. Watching it for the third or fourth time, I remain mostly mystified at what exactly Hatanaka aims to prove. That being said, I still really enjoy this movie and find it rather a shame there aren’t more people to whom I can recommend it. This certainly isn’t the movie for you if you’re interested in a clear plot line with an unambiguous resolution. I will say at the very least the film is definitely thought-provoking, and perhaps makes more sense when the weird ride is over and you’ve had some time to mull it over.

Anyone hungry for a bit o' beef? What's your favorite cut?

Anyone hungry for a bit o’ beef? What’s your favorite cut?

What I think Hatanaka may be trying to convey is just how difficult life is for a typical American woman. Therese is obviously a very confused woman, and with society expecting her to switch between roles as it sees fit, how could she not be? She must be a good daughter, ex-wife, sister, lover and patient all at once. She must be chaste one moment and insatiably horny the next, a point made most obvious by her sexual relationship with her brother. As Therese loses her grip on reality, she forgets when each role is appropriate. Sure Mad Cow Disease provides an easy scapegoat for Therese’s mental deterioration (and obviously a poke at the ills of consumerism), but social pressure seems like a pretty likely candidate in explaining her descent into madness.

While I really like the idea of the film being about a woman’s difficulties in today’s society, for all I know I may be barking up the wrong tree. The movie leaves virtually everything up to its audience’s interpretation. I’m not really sure how else to describe it other than ‘Batshit Arty,” which I don’t think is a widely accepted genre term… yet. If you’re more interested in attempting to solve a puzzle that may not be solvable, you should check this movie out. I still dig it after multiple viewings. I am glad it exists and glad to live in a world where movies like this have been made; I can only hope that more Batshit Arty gets made in the future!

13
Nov
14

Therese and Isabelle (1968)

thereseandisabelleposterThe Netflix queue is an evil beast, especially when you have an ever-growing collection at home that’s always fighting for a spot amongst your rented discs. On top of that, when over half of your disc queue is “Very Long Wait,” you just never have any idea which disc Netflix will decide is going to arrive in your mailbox next. This is how we end up with movies I don’t care to watch, and frankly don’t even remember queuing. Such is the story of Therese and Isabelle, a disc that sat in our living room for nearly a year before we decided to break the seal on it. As I removed it from the red envelope I said to Q: “Wouldn’t it be funny if it was the wrong disc?”

Well, it wasn’t the wrong disc, but the disc was nearly split in half and, needless to say, totally unplayable. That’s what I get for breaking my rule of always checking the disc as soon as it comes in the mail! So after we got the replacement disc, we carved out two hours to watch the damn thing and I have to admit I wasn’t all that excited about it, which may have colored how I felt about the film ultimately.

The film is set in a (French? Swiss? Let’s just go with European) boarding school. Therese, now a grown woman, goes to the school on a Sunday presumably for nostalgic reasons. No one is at the school, so she roams around the grounds and the classrooms alone. The camera follows her gaze as she begins to remember her sexual awakening with her classmate, Isabelle. They meet, they become close, they become really close, and then (SPOILER ALERT!) Isabelle disappears without a trace and Therese never sees her again, solidifying an already disturbing pattern of people leaving Therese hanging out to dry.

You guessed it, Therese & Isabelle.

You guessed it, Therese & Isabelle.

The film is adapted from a book of the same name, and some of the steamiest parts of it aren’t the sex scenes themselves, but rather narration that accompanies them, which I assume is taken directly from the book. The narration will surely make you blush far more than any of the nudity the film’s relatively chaste sex scenes have to offer! Still, the steamy action scenes are few and far between, and unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have much to offer.

The film does do some interesting things with time; often we start off seeing present-day Therese looking at a present-day school, and the camera will pan around her to show us the school of her youth. Additionally there are some beautiful shots of the school grounds, which remind me an awful lot of the hotel grounds in Last Year at Marienbad. Aside from that, I can’t really say much else positive about it. It moves at a snail’s pace, and its 118-minute running time doesn’t help its case out at all. Since I have an interest in early, light smut I’m glad I watched this, and I’m not going to give up on Radley Metzger, but for anyone else who is interested I’d say you’re probably safe to skip out on this one. If it’s dirty girl-on-girl action you’re looking for, my guess is the book will deliver on that much more than the film did!




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Old Wave